2,244,80,700—I’m a Billionaire

adult learning, art, Attitudes, Creativity, Faith, Fear, Holy Spirit, Imagination, Love, Ministry, Painting, purpose, Reflection, risk, Spirituality, vision

Today I’ve been alive for a grand total of 25,976 days. That’s a big number for an old gal. Of course, if I really wanted to feel old, I could count all the minutes I’ve been alive—just think about being 37,406,345 minutes old! I’m a millionaire in minutes. Don’t multiply that number by 60 to get the accumulated seconds, or you’ll go crazy thinking about 2,244,380,700.

Of course, none of us are as old as the estimated age of the universe, which is 4.32 × 10 to the 17th power in seconds, assuming 13.7 billion years since the Big Bang. Of course, God preexisted long before God created the universe, but no one was around to count birthdays. These anniversaries are irrelevant to an eternal being who has always existed, and will have no demise, just as the markings of a nonexistent birthday are. We finite beings hold all these ritual days to be ripe with sentiment, for we know how fragile the thread of life can be.

Pieta, 2019

My thread has been spinning quite a long time now, with over two billion seconds accumulated. I may not be wealthy, but at least I can be a billionaire in a life well lived. Some folks think when you get to a certain age, your best days are behind you. They’re the ones who continually talk about how great life was back when they were young and full of it. Now they’re old and full of it, but they’re out to pasture and don’t get to make things happen. They long for the days that were, when they made life happen.

Life goes on, of course, with or without us. The old, who stay young at heart, find a new passion in their later years. They either pick up an earlier hobby or begin a new one. They attempt new challenges, even if they seem uncomfortable at first. They mentor younger leaders and encourage the next generation rather than complain how they don’t do the work the same way we did, back in our day. Those well worn paths are now ruts, which is why the young want to try a new route.

We can take a page from their book, even at our billionaire age. Yet we have to admit, setting off on a new path is difficult, for we leave our familiar landmarks behind. We also aren’t certain of our destination, since it’s somewhere “yonder” and “where (God) will show (us).” Sometimes the path isn’t even well marked. The worst thing about starting over is being a novice. We have to swallow our pride, for while we might be highly accomplished in our day job, we’ll be only a rank beginner in our new hobby.

When I went on medical leave about a dozen years ago, I started painting again. I didn’t have time for art for over two decades while in seminary or serving a church as a pastor. My mind could envision an image, but my hand lagged behind in the skill to execute it. Now I can tell when I’m well—the work flows—but when I’m under the weather—my hand and mind aren’t coordinated at all. We have to have faith that “the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)

Of course, Paul was speaking of the total transformation of our lives into the complete image of Christ, but we could also speak of God uniting the body, mind, and spirit into one complete whole, so that we’re able to be at one with our creative energy and what we create. We can only do this by being in one accord with the Creator of all creation.

If I had given up in despair because my early works didn’t match my vision of what I wanted them to be, I would have been as faithless as the church that turns away the people who aren’t yet perfect in faith. God doesn’t call the church to be a gathering of already perfect people waiting for Jesus to return. God does call all of us to go onto perfection and love for our God and our neighbors . So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.

Providence of God, 2009

“Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” (1 John 4:11-12, 16-18)

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Apples and Starving Artists

adult learning, apples, art, butterflies, Creativity, Faith, ministry, Painting, purpose, shadows, United Methodist Church, vision

DELEE

Famous artists throughout the ages have chosen apples for their still life paintings. Apples are known for sitting still, they have a long shelf life, and they work for cheap. Moreover, when the painting is done, they make an excellent pie. We can’t do this with our human models, since this involves non ethical principles such as “Do not take a human life or do not murder.” So, apples are good for starving artists everywhere.

DIANA

In art class last Friday, the adult students learned even a simple apple and its shadows can be challenging, but the fruit of the quest is worth it. Integration of the object and the ground isn’t easy! If we focus only on the form, it’ll float like a butterfly above the ground. The shadow ties the form to the ground and tells us more about object’s shape and location in space. The line behind the objects determines the point of view. It becomes our horizon line, so we know if we’re looking above or below the objects.

GAIL

We can use our brushstrokes can to shape the apple’s form too. Then if we use the same brush technique for our ground, we haven’t separated the object from the ground. We end up with the famous magic “cloak of invisibility,” which is great in a Harry Potter novel, but not so great if we want to separate our apple from the ground.

RUSS

These are all areas of growth, however. As my old teachers all said, “There are no mistakes–only attempts to gain mastery over the techniques until you find your own voice.”

Next week we’ll look at negative space. So far we’ve been drawing the objects, but now we’ll look at the space in between them! Oh–who knew we’d pay attention to the empty spaces or they’d have so much meaning!

“Guard me as the apple of the eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings…”.

~~ Psalms 17:8 (NRSV)

PLANNING TO FAIL MISERABLY

art, Attitudes, Creativity, failure, Faith, Family, Holy Spirit, Painting, Philosophy, purpose, purpose, Spirituality, Stress, Work

How to do it as an artist or any other professional.

Or lollygagger in the workplace.

I personally like #8—Why don’t you ever paint landscapes in normal colors?

I get this question all the time. How do we know our greens and blues of today are “normal?” We live in creation after the fall, not in God’s original creation, as God’s hand first formed it and God’s mind first imagined it. What if all the rainbow of colors was God’s Plan A for the earth?

Of course, I get a blank stare from almost everyone, since most aren’t used to thinking about the created order and our relationship to it. Even fewer think of the fall, or what that means, for this world is all they know.

If they press me on it, I tell them, “I like colors and the emotional joy they express. And I’m not fond of wide swaths of green.”

They nod. I nod. They walk away. They probably haven’t quit talking about me. A voice comes into my head, “These are not the patrons you seek. Move along now. The Force will be with you.”

We hear that same word from the Apostle Paul, spoken long ago to the people in Galatia:

“Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)

At some point in time, we each have to hear the inner voice and make the choice to take the well trod path or the path less travelled. Each one has its own consequences, both for ill and for good. If we make fame or prosperity into a god, we might start churning out well pleasing pieces for our market, but our creative inspiration might begin to suffer, to the detriment of our souls. This can lead to various self medicating behaviors, none of which are good. It also leads to depression or anxiety, as 1, 3, 7, and 10 incite these conditions.

We can develop the good qualities needed for our futures. Independence is a character trait of leaders. An artist spends a good amount of solitary work inside the studio, and faces rejection for many years. Cold calling for Insurance might be the only worse occupation for rejection. I’ve done both.

My old teachers used to egg me on when I was studying in art school. “Who are you working for, me or the other class?” I’d be bothered, but I’d answer, “I’m working in my sketchbook.”

About the third time he passed by to interrupt my work, I’d had enough of his gruff. “I’m working for myself–go away and leave me alone!”

“That’s what I was waiting to hear you say,” he smiled and stuck his pipe back in his mouth as he strode off. I didn’t see him anymore except when I was in class with him.

Doing art in solitude is preferable to cold calling because the rejection is at the end of the process and you have beautiful work to appreciate, whereas with cold calling, all you get is a list of numbers crossed out and the hope 3% of the people will give you a reason to call back. In all this we remember,

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)

A BUTTERFLY IN THE HAND OF GOD

butterflies, Health, Imagination, Physical Training, purpose, renewal, Travel, vision, Work

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My usual walking route takes me from the local YMCA around the Mercy Hospital and Physicians Buildings until I make the mile and a half loop back to the gym. I take this walk on the days it’s not too hot or humid to be exercising outside, for I like the transition of the landscape against the sky, the changing shapes of the buildings as I walk past, and the patterns that the occasional breeze makes in the tall grasses of the ditches beside the access road that is my outdoor track.

This summer has been a blessing, for our usual 100 degree days didn’t appear. While we did have “heat factor 100 degree and then some” days, our early mornings were still bearable in the outdoors. It was on such a walk as this that I found this beautiful butterfly. Usually they are fluttering about with vigor on whatever imperceptible currents of overheated air that we call late summer in Arkansas, but this one was lying on the asphalt, no longer going about its appointed rounds. It had joined the cast off cigarette packages, the empty 5Hour Energy bottle, the smashed turtle and the carcass of the bird that marked the stages of my journey.

Gently I took it from the ground. This could not be its final resting place, for something so beautiful needed to be remembered and to be celebrated. I carried it with me as I thought of our great cities and their historic beauty. We tend to tear down our old architecture and put up new in its place with great abandon, yet we pay dearly to go to Europe and Asia to see ancient cities. I live in a 1960’s era high rise condominium on a lake that is near a bridge where bats live. Because some of these endangered species have made a nuisance by nesting in a few of the condos’ decorative cinderblock patios, our board proposed covering all these balconies with painted sheet metal. We live in the oldest and tallest solely residential building in Arkansas. We are a cultural and architectural icon. We wouldn’t want to look like a ten story trailer park!

Do we hold our traditional skills in honor any more? Are we willing to invest the time, effort, and sweat to fully develop our craft? Will we live below our means so that we can enrich the world with the products of our imagination and our spirit? Will we mentor anyone to follow in our footsteps, or will we be the last ones of our kind? Do we honor the living treasures or do we fawn over only the latest hot shot?

In this life, we may have many walks, along many paths. We can choose our direction, our companions, and our departure dates. We may think that we are self sufficient, but we are just butterflies in a moment of time, for in God’s “hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being” (Job 12:10).

SURVIVAL SKILLS

Family, Fear, home, Imagination, Meditation, Prayer, purpose, sleep, Strength, Stress, Uncategorized, Work

“in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
until the destroying storms pass by.”
~~ Psalm 57:1

Drop me behind enemy lines with my machete and I’ll make my own way out. I was born for challenges: I am a first child. My parents had to learn on me and I always had to test the boundaries as I was growing up. Not that I was a particularly wild child, but when I discovered my other friends in the seventh grade had bedtimes ranging from eight PM to midnight, I was able to convince my folks I didn’t need to be put to bed at seven PM with my younger brothers. I was always the first to do anything new, since I was the oldest.

When it came time to pick a college, my parents wanted me to live at home and attend their alma mater, Centenary College. I wanted to go far away to Wellesley College, but my dear southern Daddy said, “No daughter of mine is going north of the Mason Dixon Line!” So I said I wanted to go to the notorious state party school LSU, and was told that was not an option. We compromised on Agnes Scott College, a small Presbyterian woman’s college that sends 90% of its graduates on to postgraduate work.

In the midst of my junior year, my art teacher was killed in a freak accident. We had a very modern art building that had all the floors cantilevered over the ones below so that it was open and airy. Sounds also carried very well. Those of us that were in the building heard the last screams before the sheer silence. The death of my mentor in the midst of an ordinary art activity had a profound effect on me. She was remixing clay by adding it into a grinder, but her sleeve got caught and that pulled her into the machine. There is nothing like the death of someone you love to focus your mind and to focus your actions.

When the storms of life come, and come they will, taking shelter is sometimes the better part of courage. The storm chasers who photo extreme weather events have special, modified vehicles in which they chase these powerful natural events. “Professional driver, closed course, do not attempt” ought to scroll under their videos. We need to remember that the best way to ride out a tornado is in the bathroom or closet (the most interior room without a window), and never to ride out a tornado in our car (think matchbox toy blown to kingdom come).

I can sleep through anything, but one morning when I was on the Blevins Charge, I awoke to this horrid sound roaring right over the roof of the parsonage. I looked at the clock, thought it was way too dark thirty to wake up, and went back to sleep. When I woke for good, my coffee pot wouldn’t work because the electricity was out. I went to the Gas and GO, three houses away (Blevins has more chickens than people), but they were in the same shape. I am a woman who needs my coffee (it is my machete). When I inquired, the clerk said “Are you not aware that a tornado came through here this morning!? No one has electricity! You might find coffee in Hope.” Oh, so that horrible loud sound early this morning was a tornado? And I just opened my eyes and went back to bed.

That tornado didn’t even lift a shingle off the parsonage, but that is the vagaries of the animal. The recent OKLAHOMA tornados were much larger and more devastating. Half of a city blown away, but thankfully not many lives lost considering the amount of physical destruction. The recent thunderstorms that brought flooding to Arkansas also caused several deaths. Some may ask, where is God in all this? People lose loved ones, their homes, and their business. Why does God let bad things happen to good people? Couldn’t a good God keep this from happening?

God is with us at all times, whether we acknowledge this fact or not. God’s steadfast love is a gift to us, for when our love fails and we turn away from God, God still remembers God’s pledge to love us. “You have granted me life and steadfast love, and your care has preserved my spirit.” ~~ Job 10:12 there was a time in my life that I decided there was no God, but God still remembered me even when I had forgotten God.

When we ask, why does God let bad things happen to good people, sometimes we re asking “does God cause bad things to happen?” This is a broken and fallen world in which we live. The world itself isn’t in harmony with God’s good purposes, but one day there will be a new heaven and a new earth. We too are part of the broken and fallen world, and as much as it pains us to hear this word, we are not yet “good” in biblical terms, for good is a term belonging to God alone (Mark 10:18–
Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”)

Could a good God keep these disasters from befalling his loved ones? I think if we humans thought we were immune to disasters, we would throw caution to the winds and go bat crazy. I also think we would soon forget the source of our protection and begin to worship ourselves. Oh wait, that sounds like us right now!

The question we ought to answer is “How do folks endure tragedy?” For some it is a challenge: they thrive when they have a machete in hand and are behind enemy lines. When you come out of your safe place and see your whole neighborhood blown away, you are behind enemy lines. When you find out your kid is on drugs, you are behind enemy lines. When your job gets downsized, you are behind enemy lines. The doctor tells you it’s cancer: grab the machete, honey. It’s time to meet the challenge standing up.

Even behind enemy lines, we need to rest. We have to find a hiding place, a quiet place in which we can restore ourselves and be ready for the next day. We need to be “in the shadow of your wings” and “take refuge, until the destroying storms pass by.” (Psalm 57:1)Those can be the storms of doubt, fear, hopelessness, weakness, anger, grief or inadequacy. When others depend on us to be strong, we need to take time to care or ourselves. A quiet time to meditate, to pray, to read scripture, or to hold hands with your family and to speak aloud the thanksgivings of your day can be “refuge in the shadow of God’s wings.”

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